The Art of Pursuing Real Work Vs. Busywork

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Doing the easy stuff makes us feel good, doing the hard stuff helps other people live better.

When we focus on our real work over busywork, we see intentional progress toward a focused vision or goal, rather than just checking things off a list.

Busywork isn’t always a waste of time, but it’s not the best use of time and should always be in second, third or last position.

I love checking stuff off my list. But if I don’t work from the right list, my true productivity (eternal and legacy kind of progress) is far less than I think it is, or than it could be.

This gets a little sticky when we acknowledge those items of busywork that must be done, but don’t necessarily move us forward. Things like turning in expense receipts at work, pulling weeds at home, filling out forms anywhere, or putting air in your tires.

None of these things are your real work, but they must be completed. It’s about timing, specifically making them wait and keeping first things first. That takes courage. It does for me. I squirm inside if I think someone is waiting too long for me to call them back.

When we focus on our real work over busywork, we see intentional progress toward a focused vision or goal, rather than just checking things off a list. Click & Tweet!

It’s not easy to focus on our real work.

Why?

Busywork is easier than our real work and we like the feeling of accomplishing a task. My classic temptation is email. It needs to be done, it screams to be resolved and it’s a good feeling to see that number of emails get smaller.

Avoidance is the real issue.

Avoidance is the great revealer of the hard work, the deep work, the real work we should be doing rather than the daily tasks that are required, but need to wait.

A friend of mine who hates pulling weeds, (sounds like most of us), told me that he finds himself outside pulling weeds, and justifying it by saying, “This has to be done or the weeds will get out of control.” And that’s true, they will if you never pull them. But he also acknowledged that the real reason was to avoid doing his real work, the stuff that is challenging to do. So in this case, he trades real work for yard work.

“Yard work” needs to be done, but learning the “art” of when is the essential lesson here.

Accomplishing your real work requires intentionality, foresight, and the ability to carry the pressure of tasks and people demanding your attention while remaining focused on the most important.

Accomplishing your real work requires intentionality, foresight, and the ability to carry the pressure of tasks and people demanding your attention while remaining focused on the most important. Click & Tweet!

4 Critical Examples of Real Work That We Must Intentionally Pursue

1) Personal growth

Busywork keeps you active but your mind can still become dull. The human mind requires exercise much like the body to remain strong and fit.

We don’t need to avoid our many repeated functions and responsibilities at work any more than we would avoid brushing our teeth twice a day at home. But be mindful about what is new in your life and how you are growing as a person and a leader.

Busyness crowds out a deliberate nature to pursue growth. Busyness to accomplish tasks and pressure to stay busy consumes us in non-productive patterns.

You don’t have to change your entire job to keep growing, but what one thing are you doing that is new and stretches you?

Can you name 1 – 3 skills or heart attitudes in your life and leadership that you are pursuing deliberate and measured growth?

Busywork keeps you active but your mind can still become dull. The human mind requires exercise much like the body to remain strong and fit. Click & Tweet!

2) Think time

Have you have set aside times during the week dedicated to think time? Next to your pursuit of God, it is the number one responsibility of a leader.

If you are tempted to say that you “think all the time” may I kindly say that you really don’t. None of us do. The human brain is a computer that can operate much of our lives on autopilot. Thought requires deliberate intentionality.

Think time is similar to prayer and tithing, you don’t have to give everything, but if you give little the results follow suit, and if you are generous and consistent the outcomes are amazing.

Set think time according to your personality and responsibilities. You may prefer a three to four hour block once a week or thirty minutes a day. There is no set formula, just make sure you put think time in your calendar.

Here are a few common examples of think time topics:

  • Shaping the culture of your church and staff
  • Recovering from a financial setback
  • Developing vision and strategy
  • Discerning a complex biblical / theological question
  • Improving or innovating a ministry
  • Writing a sermon or leadership talk
  • Sequencing the communication of a significant or difficult decision
  • Resolving complex relational conflict, etc.

At the core, think time for a leader is like a puzzle we’re always trying to solve. It feels more like chess than checkers. We work on seeing several moves ahead trying to find the best solution to each problem or response to an opportunity.

Note: Always write when you think. It’s the primary way to bring clarity to your thinking.

3) Solving problems

Leaders make progress, solve problems and help people. Every chapter of the book of Acts makes that clear. What problem are you solving today?

Solving problems is one of the main categories we work on in our think time but its so important that it deserves its own space on the list. It’s really the overall category for most of our think time.

Let me be “captain obvious” for a minute. The difference between thinking through how to solve a problem and solving a problem is actually doing it. Duh. I know. But far too often leaders think about it but don’t do it.

It’s surprising, but yes, leaders often know the solution but won’t set it in motion. Many churches are one tough call away from a breakthrough.

Successful leadership depends on taking action with positive outcomes.

Thinking about solving a problem and not solving the problem is like not thinking about it at all.

4) Crucial conversations

Our days as church leaders are filled with people. That’s a good thing, it’s why we do what we do. We encourage, teach, equip, pray, guide, disciple, empower, etc., and mostly importantly we love and serve.

But as leaders one specific exchange stands out as life-changing second only to love and that is conversation.

Few things move life forward according to God’s plan more than prayer and intentional conversations. Talking with God then talking with people connects the divine to the daily in a life changing way.

Few things move life forward according to God’s plan more than prayer and intentional conversations. Talking with God then talking with people connects the divine to the daily in a life changing way. Click & Tweet!

Over the course of a year we have thousands of conversations — from casual small talk to life’s most critical matters. And it’s our responsibility to make sure we have the essential conversations with the right people at the right time.

These are often the more difficult conversations. This doesn’t mean they are negative, or necessarily problematic, just challenging.

Here are just a few examples:

  • Speaking belief into someone
  • Challenging a leader to step up to their potential
  • Communicating the gospel to a friend
  • Confronting sin
  • Inspiring a small group, like the church board, to a greater vision
  • Handling a situation of conflict

Our conversations can hurt people or help people. Our words can set people free or take them emotionally captive. We can speak belief or criticism. Our conversations can cause division or bring unity. Our words change lives.